In November 2002 we traveled to Tierra del Fuego / Feuerland. We went there on our way from Chile and took a twelve hour bus ride from Puerto Natales via Punta Arenas to Ushuaia.
It must have been in Ushuaia, at the small Yamana Museum were I found the postcards below. The museum shows the geological origin of Tierra del Fuego, the way of life of natives (there were four groups: Yamana, Alakaluf, Selk’nam and Haush), and the extinction of the local people through murder and infectious diseases brought by Europeans.
By 1911, only around 300 Selk’nam lived in reserves. Two Christian missionaries were established to provide housing and food for the natives. In spite of the help, Selk’nam were unable to survive without their traditions and lifestyles. A bigger part of the population died because of measles in 1925. The last ethnic Selk’nam died in the 1960/70 (sources give different names and years).
The pictures were taken by Martin Gusinde, a German missionary and Ethnologist. During 1918 to 1924 he traveled to Tierra del Feugo four times and studied the Selk’nam. Therefore, the culture of the Selk’nam is well documented in his 1000 pages strong book. His writing came under criticism later on as it is believed that especially the chapters dealing with religion and family values have not been unreflected from his own contemporary beliefs. However, Martin Gusinde was the first and last Ethnologist who studied the Selk’nam culture as a whole.
The male initiation ceremony of the Selk’nam called Hain was held for several months of the year and different groups came together to celebrate. Young men were brought to a hut were they were thought in myths. The ceremony included rituals in which the young men had to prove their endurance and strength.
The highlight of the festival was the appearance of spirits, actually adult male Selk’nam disguised as such. Each of the spirits had it’s own character. Some of them were there to scare women, others appeared for entertainment. Later on, the real identity of the spirits was revealed to the young men.
The last Hain was held in one of the missions in 1923, and it was photographed by Martin Gusinde. The photos depict various spirits.